Syrian refugee crisis escalates
The Syrian War – how did it start?
The Syrian civil war, or the Syrian uprising, is an ongoing armed conflict in Syria between forces loyal to the Syrian Ba’ath Party government and those seeking to oust it. The conflict appears to have begun early 2011, with popular demonstrations that grew nationwide by April 2011. Protesters were demanding the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has held the presidency in Syria since 1971, as well as the end of Ba’ath Party rule.
In April 2011, the Syrian Army was deployed to quell the uprising, and soldiers fired on demonstrators across the country. After months of military sieges, the protests evolved into an armed rebellion.
Late 2011 marked growing influence of the Islamist group Jabhat al-Nusra within the opposition forces, and in 2013 Hezbollah entered the war in support of the Syrian army. It appears the regime is further upheld by support from Russia and Iran, while Qatar and Saudi Arabia transfer weapons to the rebels.
Human rights in Syria
The state of human rights in Syria has long been the subject of harsh criticism from global organizations. The country was under emergency rule from 1963 until 2011, effectively granting security forces sweeping powers of arrest and detention.President Bashar al-Assad of the Ba’ath Party is widely regarded to have been unsuccessful in implementing democratic change.All political parties other than the Ba’ath Party have remained banned, thereby leaving Syria a one-party state without free elections.
Rights of free expression, association and assembly were strictly controlled in Syria even before the uprising. The authorities harass and imprison human rights activists and other critics of the government, who are often indefinitely detained and tortured in poor prison conditions.
Women and ethnic minorities face discrimination in the public sector. Thousands of Syrian Kurds were denied citizenship in 1962 and their descendants continued to be labeled as “foreigners”. Several riots prompted increased tension in Syria’s Kurdish areas since 2004. Occasional clashes between Kurdish protesters and security forces have since continued.
What’s happening now?
By July 2013, the Syrian government controlled approximately 30 – 40% of the country’s territory and 60% of the Syrian population. The insurgency controls much of the territory in the country’s north and east.
By this time, the death toll had surpassed 100,000, according to the United Nations. About 4 million Syrians have been displaced within the country and 1.8 million have fled to other countries. In addition, tens of thousands of protesters have been imprisoned and there are reports of widespread torture and terror in state prisons.
With more than 25% of the country being driven out of their homes, the situation in refugee camps is dire. In a camp opened one year ago in Jordan for 60,000 people, more than 150,000 people are now living there. Every day the camp costs $500,000 to run and relies on 350 tankers trucking in water and 300 tankers removing sewage.
The Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan is equal in size to what would be Jordan’s fifth-largest city. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AP
In Lebanon, the numbers are just as bad. About 600,000 refugees have crossed the border, and if numbers keep rising it is estimated that by the end of the year, one in four people in Lebanon will be a Syrian refugee. Another 400,000 have crossed into southern Turkey. There are even tens of thousands of people who have decided that Iraq represents a safer option than Syria.
“Our financial status is horrible since we arrived in Iraq…My husband has never been able to find a job. We can buy meat or chicken only every few months. Our daily meals are tinned cheese or tinned cream, which cost 500 Iraqi dinars [28p]. We have potato with rice for lunch or beans with rice. Dinner is tomato and cucumber. My children want better food but we can’t get it. All we have is donated to us by the clerics in the mosques and tribal leaders.” Hadiyia Ali is from a camp in Iraq where she lives with her four children.
What can we do?
Reema lives in a single room in Lebanon with her parents and four siblings, in a building still under construction. There are piles of rubble all around, no windows, no comfort.
A year ago her home in Syria was destroyed by the bombing. As the fighting got worse, her family was forced to move on, eventually spending months living underground with no electricity.
“I was at school when it was bombed. Some of the children were killed. We all ran away. When we saw the bombing of the school we thought they bombed all schools all over the world.” – Reema [name changed to protect her identity]
Oxfam have set up a cash transfer system to pay Reema’s rent over the next two months and they need our help to support Reema through this time.
With our help, Oxfam plans to reach 650,000 people by the end of 2013.
You can help refugees like Reema by donating to Oxfam’s Syria Crisis Appeal today.